Extract from 'Rock Lives' by Timothy White (1989)
Subject: Fleetwood Mac
When was it released? 1990
The High Priestess of Pop-Rock is spitting mad.
"Mark my words," says Stevie Nicks, a furnace in her gaze, "tomorrow, in this very room, is the final reckoning, and if Lindsey Buckingham dares to insist his own projects are more important than the future of Fleetwood Mac - that's it! New beginnings have always been the best part of this band. I swear it to you now: if there needs to be a new Fleetwood Mac, we'll start all over again!"
It is Wednesday, July 8, 1987, and the wild-hearted head siren of rock and roll's longest-running passion play is storming around the art nouveau-packed living room of her hillside Los Angeles home, attired in full Good Witch of the West Coast finery. Stevie's startling fashion statement builds upwards from white lace anklets and black spandex hose to a vision of cemetery seduction. And there is disorder in the dark lady's realm.
"If that man tries to hang us up," she vows, regarding Fleetwood Mac's errant lead guitarist, "he is not gonna have the last laugh!"
The matter at hand on that fateful afternoon was the future of Fleetwood Mac, which rose to musical prominence in the 1970s as heir to the pop throne vacated by the Beatles and the Beach Boys. The British-American unit was the prolific purveyor of such transcendent hits as “Over My Head,” “Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win),” “Dreams,” “Gypsy”… the list is endless, with another bumper crop from 1987’s hit Tango in the Night. Tango was five years in the dawning, and it arrived nearly a donkey’s age after Rumours, 1977’s 20-million-selling album of Brit blues-rock and California acoustic pop. Tango’s appearance hinged on a belated mating dance with Buckingham, the band’s eccentric studio Merlin. It is her, along with former inamorata Nicks and sultry songbird Christine McVie, who has generated most of the band’s output. And it is her who frequently shaped that often “rough” yield in the control room until it shone from a light within. Buckingham was the resident alchemist in this medieval court intrigue, and the man who wound up stretched on the rack of his cohorts’ frustrations.
And so, two weeks after the July ’87 ultimatum expressed by Nicks and company, Lindsey Buckingham was dismissed from Fleetwood Mac. He was replaced seemingly overnight by Bully Burnette, accomplished (seven solo LPs) song of rockabilly legend Dorsey Burnette, and by Rick Vito, former Bob Seger/Jackson Browne lead guitarist. Burnette had once backed Lindsey in his extracurricular concerts and also played in Mick Fleetwood’s spin-off combo, the Zoo. Vito severed a hitch with Fleetwood Mac mentor John Mayall’s blues infantry. As further evidence of the durability of the Mac tradition, the band issued Greatest Hits (1988), a compendium of modern Mac chart successes – plus material cut by the latest lineup, with “As Long As You Follow” currently filling the airwaves.
As promising as the new group appears, the challenge of overcoming the loss of Lindsey Buckingham looms large. It’s strange that 1987 brought both the comeback and the dissolution of the most famous Fleetwood Mac lineup, yet their swan songs on Tango boasted all the star-crossed struggles and pop enigmas for which they had become renowned. “Big Love,” the first single from Tango, carried a hint of foreboding with its inscrutable choruses of sweaty ooohs and aaahs. Who, the rock rumor mill wondered, was responsible for such outbursts? With a wink and a shrug, Buckingham is now happy to ‘fess up.
“It surprised me there was a whole lot of interest in who was doing the female side of the song’s ‘love grunts,’ or whatever you want to call them,” says Lindsey, with a nasal laugh, while seated in the Slop, the cluttered twenty-four-track home studio inside his quasi-oriental Bel Air home. “That was actually me – with VSOs, variable-speed oscillators. There’s a lot you can do in terms of your arranging and your voicing with slowing and speeding tape machines. It was odd that so many people wondered if it was Stevie on there with me. I guess it just follows the same thread as everything that was brought to the public in Rumours – you know, the musical soap opera.”
Buckingham is referring to the romantic taffy pull among the band’s personnel that turned brittle after the formidable success of Fleetwood Mac, the 1975 album on which the L.A. contingent of the twenty-year-old Mac debuted. By the time the follow-up Rumours LP was completed, Lindsey and Stevie’s four-year romance was asunder; ditto the marriage of Christine McVie and bassist John McVie, as well as founder Mick Fleetwood’s with Jenny Boyd. (Mick and his spouse divorced, remarried, and then in 1979 divorced again, Jenny’s penchant for rock wedlock being shared by sister Patti Boyd Harrison/Clapton/Harrison/Clapton.)
“While Fleetwood Mac took only two or three months to record,” says Nicks, “Rumours took twelve months because we were all trying to hold the foundation of Fleetwood Mac together, and trying to speak to each other in a civil tone, while sitting in a tiny room listening to each other’s songs about our shattered relationship. It was very, very tense – a room full of divorced people who didn’t dare bring anybody new into the same room, because nobody was gonna be nice to anybody brought into the circle.”
Back then, at least, there was a strained consensus that the circle be unbroken. No such unity of purpose still prevailed in the wake of Tango in the Night, which only came about after Christine McVie recruited Buckingham, Fleetwood and her ex-husband to help her cut a new version of the Elvis chestnut “Can’t Help Falling in Love” for the score of an aptly titled Blake Edwards film, A Fine Mess.
“There were no ulterior motives to try and get the band together,” Christine maintains, yet the abrupt momentum of the project, begun in late ’85, served to weaken Buckingham’s hard-worn new, independence from the supergroup.
“At the beginning of Tango, we hadn’t spent a lot of time together,” explains Buckingham, a slight, delicately featured man whose diffident look is countered by an intense discourse. “So, because there was no real central organizing force, people on the periphery started to get into the picture. Lawyers started to construct a situation that would get this thing off the ground, and their perception of a creative situation to inject something ‘new’ was to bring in a young guy from New York to engineer/produce. It took us a week to realize this guy was in a little over his head.”
The inorganic methodology backfired as it became obvious that Lindsey and engineer-best friend Richard Dashut, who had been studio maestros for the Mac from the audacious Tusk onward, could not contribute to the fold in a compartmentalized fashion. In order to steady the foundering Tango, Buckingham and Dashut saw no alternative but to plunder the best assets of Lindsey’s beloved third solo LP-in-progress. “I used everything that I liked for Tango,” he moans, a total of four songs commencing with “Big Love.” Then it came time to either farm out wordless music tracks to the other members, or buff the rough gems they proffered.
“If I had to choose my main contributing factor to the band,” he says, “it wouldn’t be as a guitarist, a writer, or a singer. It would be as someone who knows how to take raw material from Christine and Stevie and forge that into something. That’s a nice gift to have, and to be able to help people with.
“I think I’m coming into the most creative period of my life,” he rules, “and whether that has to do with Fleetwood Mac or whether it doesn’t is not really important. My solo work is back on track, Warners has already heard and liked some fruits of my latest labors, and the public will shortly be able to judge for themselves. [The album is expected in 1990.] Meantime, I’ve done my best by this group of people!”
They had wanted more. Not out of selfishness so much as simple need. They expected Buckingham to set aside his own aims and press on with a world tour in support of the nine-million-selling Tango. While Lindsey was neither the star of this outfit (Stevie has that slot), nor its leader (don’t let the sunken stare fool you; manic flailer Mick Fleetwood has always stayed in charge), Buckingham was its strategist, theorist, and master mechanic. He’s always been most adept at devising high-minded artistic maneuvers, while the rest of his colleagues have clung to a humbler purpose: survival. Now he was history.
“On August 5th, 1987, the new history of Fleetwood Mac began,” stated Stevie Nicks at a secret September band rehearsal in Venice, California, just before the revised Vito-Burnette edition embarked on its baptismal concert trek.
According to Nicks, the original July ’87 meeting in which the band was to have it out with Buckingham proved anticlimactic. All personnel arrived at Nicks’s house in the afternoon, arranging themselves on the semi-circular ivory leather couch in her living room. The atmosphere was taut, but Lindsey diffused the tensions by announcing that he might still be open to the road trip. A low-key dinner for final deliberations was scheduled for that evening – and Lindsey failed to show.
Nonetheless, a call came from his management several days later, informing one and all that Buckingham would indeed tour. “We all got really excited,” Nicks recalls. “It was like, ‘Well, he’s gonna do it, even if it’s only for ten weeks. It’s gonna be great, we’ll get to play, and we’re gonna make some money; everybody needs to make some money.’” Instantly, all of the members’ separate management offices aligned to spend a frenetic week booking in intricate itinerary that more properly should have been arranged six months earlier.
The night before the final production meeting to settle on additional backup musicians, lighting and staging, etc, Buckingham’s representatives rang Nicks and guest Mick Fleetwood at her main manse in Phoenix, Arizona, to tell them Lindsey has rescinded his agreement. In collective shock, but unwilling to face the humiliation of informing the nation’s top concert promoters that the band was in dire disarray, the rest of Fleetwood Mac demanded a confrontation in Los Angeles with their delinquent whiz kid.
That conference on August 5 lasted a matter of minutes before Nicks was on her heels, tongue-lashing her old boyfriend. The duo’s mutual harangue culminated in an outdoors tiff in an L.A. parking lot that grew more deeply felt than either party ever intended or feared.
“It was horrifying for both of us,” says a somber Stevie Nicks, describing her August altercation with Lindsey Buckingham, a shouting match extraordinaire. “We said too much to each other. We said all the things that we had wanted to say for the last ten years, and we screamed at each other. Those things in a relationship that you try to never say just in case you do get back together – we said those things. Lindsey and I had been going together from about 1971 to around 1976. But we never really broke up until that moment. We’ve since patched up our friendship, because Lindsey is far too important to my life not to do that, but the creative ties are behind us.
“The thing about Fleetwood Mac is that everybody wants everybody to be free,” Nicks now reflects, “everybody wants you to be in this group because you want to. I think that in his heart Lindsey didn’t want to say, ‘I quit, I’m leaving.’ Everybody believes in dreams and fairy tales, we we all hoped he’d change his mind. I knew he would never change his mind.
“He just wants to concentrate completely on his own music, recorded and played on his terms,” she summarizes. “And I admit he’s certainly earned that right.”
Not surprisingly, Buckingham concurs. “In the past,” he says, “what I’ve done is given over the commercial side to Fleetwood Mac, and tried to make, hopefully, more artistic statements on solo records.” And how would he describe those statements? “Ah, just lust, longing, loneliness,” he answers with a subtle grin. “Same old thing you always hear from me.”
Hours after the parking lot blowout with Buckingham, Nicks asked Mick Fleetwood if she could join him for dinner. Mick had reserved a table at the chic Le Dome bistro on Sunset Boulevard for himself, Zoo guitarist Burnette, and free agent Vito. Mick and his manager, Dennis Dunstan, wanted to invite the two musicians to a Fleetwood Mac band rehearsal slated for the following afternoon.
“I walked into the restaurant,” says Nicks, “sat down, and was introduced to Rick Vito, who I saw play with Bob Seger, but had never met before. What really happened was that everybody just started to smile. And as I sat there I though the same thing I did at the beginning of Fleetwood Mac, when Lindsey and I joined; I thought these are going to be very close friends of mine.
“And I want this to work out, I want us to converge,” says Nicks, who invited the fresh lineup to her house for the August 16, 1987, Harmonic Convergence, “so if there is something happening up there we’d be first on that priority list. You don’t ever replace anybody, or their soul or their historical value to Fleetwood Mac, but you do go on.”
What has always rescued the band from artistic dissolution, as well as tatty backstage sordidness, is its candor about individual sins and shared illusions. Rock and roll was once synonymous with scathing honesty, but in an era when the music is rife with hypocrisy and specious accommodation, the family tree of Fleetwood Mac continues to have its fairest foliage as well as its gnarls. You may elect to go your own way, but it’s how you travel the twisted road that makes the destination worthwhile.
In the beginning there was hot-wire limey blues, and the brisk hoisting of lager that blurred the band's rainiest days. Peter Green, né Greenbaum, Eric Clapton's replacement in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, quite that crew in 1967 and invited sometime interior decorator Mick Fleetwood - who had been dropped from the Bluesbreakers for chronic drunkenness - to join his own fledgling outfit. To flesh out the sound, Green chose guitarist/prankster/Elmore James impersonator Jeremy Spencer and so-so bassman Bob Brunning. Sensing a good time was brewing, veteran Bluesbreakers bassist John McVie - also temporarily outed by Mayall for excessive intoxication - came swiftly on board to replace Brunning.
"I was playing with John Mayall in a pub in East Anglia," says McVie, "and I was a full-on blues bigot. We had just put horns in the band, I felt the Bluesbreakers were getting too jazzy." During a twenty-minute break, the disenchanted McVie fetched a pint of the best from the bar to stiffen his resolve and slipped out the back door. "I went to a phone booth across the street, called Pete, and said, 'I'm in!'"
Fleetwood Mac's debut album was cut in three days, and lingered on the British charts for thirteen months. Green was as gifted at songwriting as he was at bending his Gibson Les Paul guitar to his dextrous whim. He composed a slew of influential hit Mac singles in the United Kingdom, among them "Man of the World," "Oh Well," and the reverb-soaked 1968 chart-topper "Albatross" - the song which caused the envious Beatles to create "The Sun King" for Abbey Road. Green also wrote the Santana staple "Black Magic Woman."
The Mac's prowess as a live act - further augmented with the addition of third guitarist Danny Kirwan - became the stuff of legend. Numbered among the band's loyal following was self-described "Fleetwood Mac groupie" Christine Perfect. She came from a musical brood, father Cyril being a violinist with the Birmingham symphony. Back in art college, her first boyfriend had been Birmingham University German teacher Spencer Davis, soon to gain fame with the group that bore that name. Moving to London, she found day-time wages as a department store window dresser, night work as a pianist and singer with Chicken Shack, and a new musician-admirer in John McVie. Shortly after they were married, a 1969 Melody Maker poll named Christine top female vocalist of the year, and she left Chicken Shack at her manager's insistence for a halfhearted solo LP and tour.
Christine had all but given up on music, settling into life as a housewife, when Peter Green made the astounding declaration in May 1970 that he was quitting rock. In a series of turgid testimonials, he babbled about the decadence of the road, with its tempting virgins, poisonous victuals, and assaults on his immortal soul. Green claimed divine intervention in his life, and his remorse led to a vehement repentance during which large chunks of his income were dispatched to charities for African famine relief. While his heart was in the right place, his psyche was not owing, in the minds of many of his colleagues, to a massive acid dose he suffered one evening while on tour in Germany.
Peter Green finally bolted the Mac to become a disciple of a small fundamentalist denomination in the States, releasing a quasi-religious solo record (The End of the Game) in 1970. (Several other solo albums would follow, mostly on smaller labels.) His subsequent appearances were those of a private citizen with an addlepated demeanour, refusing his backlogged record royalties while toiling as gravedigger, publican, and petrol pump attendant. To this day, it is difficult for Americans to comprehend the jolt Green's mental collapse gave his British audience; had Eric Clapton not recovered from his heroin-induced exile of 1971-73, the public sorrow would have been comparable.
Mick Fleetwood, the band member to whom he was closest, still views Green's unraveling as a crisis of conscience, but remains profoundly disquieted by the founding member's farewell rant: "He said it was all evil, he had to give everything away."
If Green was hellbent to divest himself of all rock transgressions, Fleetwood Mac seemed just as eager to distance themselves from the vacuum left by Green's exist. Fleetwood, Kirwan, and the McVies retreated to the south of England, renting an ancient oast house - that is, a farm building containing a kiln for drying malt or hops. It was in this humble dwelling that the band not only mended its spirit with the moving Kiln House but also absorbed Christine as a full participant. She had been greatly saddened by Green's deranged grief, and the wistful landscape of self-colonized enchantment that she drew as the record's jacket illustration had its own personal subtexts of loss and metaphysics.
"My mother, Beatrice Perfect, had recently died," Christine remembers. "A remarkable, very psychic lady, she was a medium and faith healer. Her strange talents and interests used to concern me, because she belonged to these psychic research societies and would go off ghost hunting. As for her faith healing, I had a rather nasty wart underneath my nose when I was about eight. My mother just put her finger on it one night before I went to bed, and when I woke up the next morning it was gone!"
Seated cross-legged before the fireplace in her antiques-appointed Beverly Hills cottage, the comely, husky-voiced McVie chuckles mischievously at this anecdote and doles out another. "I distinctly remember a time when a friend of my father's had leukemia and was told she had virtually no time at all to live. I remember being sent a white kid glove that belonged to the sick woman, and my mother wore it in bed several times. Within a month, there was a phone call from this sick lady's companion, saying the doctors couldn't understand it but she was completely healed, not a thing wrong with her!"
Pity the remarkable Mrs. Perfect couldn't have ministered to the bedeviled souls in Fleetwood, for their were multiplying. Jeremy Spencer was a confirmed scamp notorious for stunts like taking the stage of London's prestigious Marquee Club with a wooden dildo dangling from his gaping fly. But the tawdry sideshow in the City of Angels seemed to shock him into a paranoid Puritanism. When in Los Angeles with Fleetwood Mac in February 1971, he left the hotel prior to the performance to purchase a newspaper - and promptly disappeared. Four days later, he was discovered in the local commune of the born-again Children of God sect.
Once more, Mick Fleetwood was the patient listener to whom all scarifying sorrows were divulged, Spencer's consisting of an "evil" cloaking L.A. that was out to "get him," the dreadful proximity of the San Andreas Fault, and a guilt that embraced everything from the band's increasing divergence from their blues charter to the mounting gate receipts they were banking. Spencer's midtour denouement meant the loss of not only an underrated talent, but also a much-needed sense of humor. John McVie reveals that his favorite Fleetwood Mac album is a 1969 Spencer-sponsored masterwork still unissued.
"It was a parody album, which was very funny and technically perfect," says John with a reflective snigger. "It was done as a whole show with different bands in it. It started off with your typical gross MC who introduced this acid band, a blues band, a jazz fusion band, and one doing some fifties Fabian-esque cutie music. We'd be playing in each different style, and Jeremy was very much a mimic with a beautifully sarcastic sense of humor. It was full of wanker jokes, vulgar gags, and very outrageous stuff. I don't think the record company thought we were serious, but it was great!"
Spencer's shows were ably filled by singer/guitarist Bob Welch, who made strong contributions to four Mac LPs. But more trouble loomed. Not long after the band axed Danny Kirwan in 1972 (reasons given by the rest were that he had been "a nervous wreck" and the source of an "intolerable" professional climate), there was indeed a fake Fleetwood Mac on the hoof.
For Mick Fleetwood, the phony Mac was a source of anguish on multiple levels. In the early phases of an early U.S. tour in autumn 1973 to promote Mystery to Me, Mick Fleetwood found that Kirwan's successor, Bob Weston, had become romantically involved with his wife, Jenny. Distraught, Mick bounced Weston, after which the band went on an uncertain sabbatical and Fleetwood repaired to Africa by himself to contemplate his options. Band manager Clifford Davis, reluctant to let all that box-office cash evaporate, quickly assembled an anonymous pickup crew he christened the "New Fleetwood Mac" and hustled them out to exploit the canceled bookings. The genuine article sued Davis and his fraudulent ensemble and won, although the case took years to adjudicate.
Meantime, Mick Fleetwood patched both his marriage and his band back together and moved the entire crew to California. He also began managing the Mac himself under the whimsical banner of Seedy Management. In December 1974, just as Bob Welch was bowing out to form his own group, Mick was shopping around Los Angeles for a fit studio and new troops to comprise the next Mac attack. It was in a modest complex called Sound City, while listening to a tape in order to demonstrate the control room hardware that Mick chanced to her a duo known as Buckingham Nicks.
Lindsey was a scion of a Palo Alto family who had distinguished themselves over several generations as savvy coffee growers and Olympic-caliber swimmers (Gregg Buckingham earned a silver medal in the 1968 games). The youngest of three boy, Lindsey was the clan misfit who had squandered a $12,000 inheritance from a dead aunt on an Ampex four-track tape console. His father gave him a tiny room in the bowels of the coffee plant where he could tinker. And when he wasn't holed up there, he was off trying to get another recording deal for himself and girlfriend Stevie Nicks.
The combination of a privileged background an overachieving parent had conspired to make Stevie into a markedly stubborn and strangely distracted teenager. Seeking a safe magnet for their teen's intense inattentiveness - and hoping to make restitution for a childhood novelty act with her country crooner grandfather that they'd forbade - her parents presented Stevie with a Goya classical guitar.
"It was my sixteenth birthday," says Stevie, who was then under the spell of Bob Dylan and Judy Collins, "and I wrote a song the day I got it. It was 'I've Loved and I've Lost, and I'm Sad but Not Blue.' I was recovering from my first - I thought - love affair," she details with a throaty giggle. "I was crazy about this very popular kid at school, and I made this whole thing up.
"I realized right away I could write songs because I could have experiences without even having them!" Explosive laughter. "And I'd run to the guitar, and I'd cry, and my parents would leave me alone because it was like, Don't come in the door. A great artist is at work here. I kept a guitar at the foot of my bed."
And she kept her fantasy world working full throttle.
With her family constantly uprooted owing to her dad’s incessant corporate promotions, she made few lasting friends, so the formation of little bands became a device for fast-forward connectiveness in each suburban enclave where she was deposited. While in high school, she formed Changing Times, a folk group named for the Dylan standard, but it wasn’t until she was enrolled at San Jose State that she located the structure and the mentor she required to make her quirky designs more real.
Fritz was Lindsey’s rock combo, playing music he concocted in his four-track lair in the coffee factory. Stevie was the catalyst for its modest goals, and then some. After three and a half years of experience together, which Stevie helped fund through work as a dental assistant (for one day) and a hostess at a Bob’s Big Boy, Lindsey and his gal lit out for Los Angeles. They shared a house, much as Lindsey does now, with Richard Dashut, and peddled their demo tapes. Polydor Records bit, and issued the Buckingham-Nicks LP in November 1973. An exquisite folk-rock miniature just a tad ahead of its time, it could still be mistaken as modern Fleetwood Mac product.
When the LP bombed, Stevie resumed waitressing on the lunch shift at a Beverly Hills restaurant called Clementine’s, and Lindsey hit the road with a group Warren Zevon threw together to back Don Everly. On New Year’s Eve 1974, at a party at their house, Lindsey and Stevie were wondering if 1975 was worth welcoming in when Mick Fleetwood phoned with the invitation that made their dreams, and nightmares, come true.
It’s been said that the worst thing you can do for talented, sensitive people is to permit them to pursue anything they please. Besides the music, for John McVie it was liquor; for Christine McVie it was unrequited love; for Lindsey Buckingham, it was workaholism; for Stevie Nicks, it was the Grand Slam.
And for once, Mick Fleetwood was too overextended himself to pick up all the surrounding pieces.
“If anyone doesn’t know it,” Mick volunteers, “I ended up stark broke,” alluding to early 1980s personal bankruptcy proceeding, tied in part to ill-advised investments in Australian real estate which left him owing some $2 million to two California banks, his record label, and his attorney. He was also fired as the bank’s manager for intemperate spending. Fighting back from these reversals, plus a freak illness related to his blood-sugar levels, left Mick drained in every sense. His prospective recording plans for his adjunct band, the Zoo (they had one RCA LP), have been shelved, since his star guitarist Billy Burnette is now an asset of the Mac. But Fleetwood wants to record a sequel to 1980’s The Visitor, his own pre-Graceland hybrid of hard rock and African roll. And he’s contemplating what he calls “a transcension album, working my drums into spoken-word tapes of the quite wonderful poetry readings of my late father.”
While these initiatives are closest to his heart, he’s also hot to make his mark in Hollywood. “I’ve done a bit of acting, appearing yearly in ’87 in The Running Man, that Arnold Schwarzenegger film based on a Stephen King story. I played a character named Mick, who was myself, really, at eighty-five years old. I was a mad professor, obsessed with the ideals of the sixties and the deterioration of the social structure. I enjoyed the shit out of it!”
While Fleetwood was lost in his harmless Tinseltown reverie, fellow Mac stalwart John McVie was in a near-lethal stupor. “I woke up on the bathroom floor,” is how the bassist begins an unsolicited soliloquy about his bleakest bout with the bottle in the spring of ’87. “I had a seizure, an alcohol-induced seizure, which scared me and scared my wife. It was time to stop because it was destroying everything. There’s nothing constructive comes out of being an alcoholic.”
This conversation had started out being about sailing. John McVie’s sole interest outside of Fleetwood Mac, and the hobby he plunged into with a vengeance following his divorce from Christine McVie in February 1978. Sailing can be both solitary and social, McVie preferring the convivial side. By the end of 1978, John had remarried to former secretary Julie Ann Rubens and was well into the inebriated joys of high-seas yachting jaunts from Los Angeles to Maui. McVie sails out of Newport Beach these days, most frequently to and from a haven he maintains in St. Thomas – which is where his pre-Tango idleness took its alarming toll.
“I sat around,” he says, “and it didn’t help my alcohol problem. I sat in St. Thomas for a long time, and it being a duty-free island, for $2.98 you can get well-twisted.” He simpers to himself, his droopy eyes showing a subdued twinkle. “It turned into a constant problem, which I’m trying to beat now.”
While McVie views touring as an antidote to his idleness-aggravated dipsomania, Buckingham detests the drab motel-to-motel cycles of nationwide concertizing. While on a 1977 spring in support of Rumours, Buckingham passed out in the shower of a Philadelphia suite and was diagnosed as having a mild form of epilepsy. He’s sought thereafter to be more vigilent against undue stress. His greatest detriment, of course, is his own penchant for marathon studio servitude, the turning point being 1979’s Tusk LP. Taking its name from Mick Fleetwood’s code word for the male sex organ, the two-record Tusk cost a cool $1 million to realize and was composed in the main by Buckingham. Executed with all the fanfare of a seventies response to the Beatles White Album, there has been a tendency in the decade since to depict the lavishly eclectic Tusk as “Lindsey’s Folly,” or an outright debacle, but actually it’s a sublimely produced pop cornucopia that sold a respectable four million copies, and its two Top 10 singles (the title track and “Sara”) are among the band’s best.
Fleetwood Mac responded to Tusk’s post-Rumours commercial shortcomings with abject contrition, as evidenced by the far more conservative Mirage(1982). Buckingham still sounds resentful of the defensive attitudes: “I felt that it’s a danger zone when people stop really looking at what the work is, and start noticing the phenomenon per se: the sales, all of that. In this business you have a responsibility to constantly be cultivating what you’re doing, rather than just watching yourself in action.”
Does this mean his third solo album will be a double one? “Quadruple,” he quips sheepishly. “Hey, I’ve got about sixty songs!”
Meantime, Christine McVie’s struggles with her art are concerned more with emotional objectives than physical volume. “I like to write songs about love,” she says. “Music and love go hand in hand to me, but I like to find an unsuual way of phrasing it all.” She notes that wistful “Isn’t It Midnight,” one of her Tango tracks, “goes back directly to a guy that I met a long time ago; it was a concrete situation that didn’t work out.” Elsewhere on Tango, critics found the refrain “Little Lies” (“Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies”), which Christine penned with new husband Eddy Quintela, to be borderline perverse, but she discards such carping.
“The idea of the lyric is, ‘If I had the chance, I’d do it differently next time. But since I can’t, just carry on lying tome and I’ll believe – even though I know you’re lying.’”
While there is no attempt to pin the song to a specific relationship, it fits the pattern of her woebegone bond with the late Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, who had replaced Fleetwood Mac lighting director Curry Grant as the object of her affections. The likable but profligerate Wilson into her large Coldwater Canyon house just prior to Christmas 1978 and by all accounts took advanatge of her good nature and financial largess. In one celebrated incident, he hired a flock of gardeners to plant a huge heart-shaped flower bed in her backyard as a birthday token. Less well known is the fact that he had the bill for the landscaping sent to her.
For two years, she forgave his every childish falsehood and infidelity, but with his drinking and drug use escalating by the close of 1980, she finally called a halt to the love affair. (An intoxicated Dennis Wilson, thirty-nine, later drowned in Marina del Rey on December 28, 1983.) Christine made her peace with the past and went on, marrying Portuguese musician Eduardo Quintela de Mendonca on October 18, 1986, in London.
For now, Christine’s outlook on her own life and career is sufficiently optimistic that she and Lindsey blocked using Stevie Nick’s downbeat “When Will I See You Again” as Tango’s closing selection.
“That was a little too down and depressing,” McVie says, so its position on the album was shifted. To fill the gap Christine took an existing instrumental track of Lindsey’s and wrote “You and I, Part II,” a song that echoes her new beginning with Eddy Quintela. “There’s a hopeful, optimistic vibe to the song, of a new tomorrow,” she believes, pointedly adding, “It’s pop, but it’s mature.”
Christine McVie doesn’t mention it, but another lighthearted track that could have been selected to close Tango was a Stevie Nicks rouser called “What Has Rock and Roll Ever Done For You?” Stevie has no rancor about the song’s total elimination, asserting with a sigh that Fleetwood Mac usually prefers her “stranger, more demented rock and roll.”
Ms. Nicks remains a believer in ghosts and witches, a devotee of the occult who is capable of conducting entire conversations about the modern import of Halloween (her favorite night of the year), the usefulness of the Tarot, and the signficance of maya, which in Hindu embodies the illusory world of the senses. In a more concrete sphere, Nicks endures as the most formidable of Fleetwood Mac’s solo draws, with a trinity of smash albums to her credit and another one nearing completion. Nonetheless, there are those who persist in dismissing her recordings as – in her words, “musical spaciness.”
“It bothers me,” she says, “because I would like to know how spacy thesepeople are, or if they ever really listened at all. I don’t care, even if they say things that aren’t very nice, if I feel they had a valid reason. But when people get needlessly cruel it really hurts my feelings. I don’t read many reviews because I start questioning and think maybe I ought to get out of this business if I’m such a space cadet.
“I write about true experiences, and if the song isn’t about me, it is absolutely about someone around me. Everything I do is a concept: the way I dress, wear my hair, do my makeup, write my songs, live my life. If everybody has such trouble understanding what I’m saying, then I wonder how come I’m still in rock and roll after all these years? I start getting nervous and questioning my concept. I don’t like to question my concept. I very seldom make a decision and change it.”
For instance, she insisted on dedicating her 1983 Wild Heart album and the song “The Nightbird” to her best friend, Robin Anderson, who died of leukemia in 1982. Robin had given birth to a child the week before her death and Stevie was the godmother, so Nicks’s mournful/devotional gesture was understandable. But Stevie’s decision to marry Robin’s bereft widower, Kim Anderson, caught many off guard.
Kim Anderson was a member of the Hiding Place Church, where born-again Christian liturgy emphasized the supernatural and the charismatic. Philip Wagner, the minister who officiated at the January 29, 1983, Anderson-Nicks nuptials, was outspoken in his “trepidation” concerning the pairing, stating he did not know “where Stevie was at with God.” Separation papers were filed several months later, the formal divorce coming through in April 1984.
After two years of relative seclusion, Nicks reemerged in 1986 with Rock a Little and the hit single, “Talk to Me.” However, the reclusive rock diva declined to talk with the press. Seeking an escape from prying eyes, Stevie joined buddy Tom Petty’s winter ’86 Australian trek with Bob Dylan and the Heartbreakers. She managed two concert guest shots before immigration authorities Down Under nailed her for rocking, even a little, without a work visa.
“I’ll go on any tour!” she exclaims. “I got to sing ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ with Bob and Tom! I’ll never forget in my life walking out to perform and having Bob Dylan turn and do a little bow. It made everything all right – all the pain, all the trouble, all the hassles that come along with this kind of a life in rock and roll. They all went away at that moment.”
But they soon came crashing back, in all their alcohol- and drug-beclouded fury. While on a modest, much-postponed tour in support of Rock a Little, it became plain Stevie’s life beyond the klieg lights was in disarray. The high point of these disturbing stage excursions, preserved for posterity on feature-length home video, is an emotionally harrowing, but ultimately exultant appearance at the Red Rocks amphitheater in Boulder, Colorado. Nicks agrees. “I could have looked better, and played the set a little better, and been a little less tired, but I cared that night.”
But she cared nothing about the morning after. Compelled in a private intervention by those closest to her to acknowledge her problems, she committed herself to a chemical dependency recovery program at the Betty Ford Center at the Eisenhower Memorial Hospital in Rancho Mirage, California. Giving herself over to a daily regimen of group therapy, lectures, strict diet, and “therapeutic duty assignments” to build self-esteem, she spent twenty-eight days at the comfortable eighty-bed residential campus facility beside the San Jacinto mountains.
The "recreation" segment of her $180-a-day treatment regimen was frequently spent opening the minimum of seventy fan letters she received each morning - an astounding amount considering her stay was a secret until it was nearly completely. "I was amazed," she says with a weak grin. "It flipped me out to see so much affection in my hour of crisis. What I learned was that I pushed myself way too hard, and I tried to tour and I tried to do a Fleetwood Mac record at the same time. I'd go on the road and then I'd go home to Fleetwood Mac, and I just decided at the end of the Rock a Little tour that I couldn't do it all. Anymore. And I decided that the easiest way to readjust my way of thinking was to go to Betty Ford.
"All I can say about the Ford Center is that it's an amazing place, and it makes it pretty easy to readjust your life. I haven't had a drink or anything else since I left. Life goes on, and I still write and still sing, but it's just different now. I'm really excited about what I have to do in this life - and now I can do it. I don't think I really could have done it before.
"They say that from tragedy comes great art. Well, I think there is some great tragedy in all of the people who are still around in this band after the thirteen years since Lindsey and I joined. Sometimes I think I should go back to being a waitress; maybe I would enjoy life more. But if I led a perfectly existing life, where I didn't try the universe or dare anybody or take any risks, I would never have written all those songs! So in all of us there's some great tragedy that has gone on, and that is what we write about."
By way of example, she recounts how her "huge" admiration for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers led to a creative outpouring. "The relationship I have with Tom started with 'Stop Draggin' My Hear Around' in 1981. I can call Tom late at night and say I'm freaked out or I need somebody to tell me everything's all right or this too will pass, and I can depend on him. And that is what makes our musical relationship happen. Tom is one of the only people who can look at me and say, 'Listen Stevie, this is stupid, you're fine!' and I'll believe him. Because I know that Tom Petty walks out in front of that microphone every night and plays for all those people, and handles that audience, and handles his home life and everything he does. That's kind of what he and I are to each other. If he's all right, I must be all right.
"Without rock and roll, he'd still be my very good friend," she concluded, "and I don't have many of those kinds of friends." Indeed, all the members of Fleetwood Mac share a detachment from the madding crowd, with the band serving as their sturdiest connection. "It's a living thing, this Fleetwood Mac," says Christine McVie, "a source stronger than its various members." And for Stevie Nicks, it is a wellspring of "magical" sparks that spills over into the rest of her career.
Because of the support system of Fleetwood Mac, Nicks dared go public with the thoroughly surreal "Rhiannon," and "followed her intuition" by asking Prince to help her complete "Stand Back," the 1983 solo single that became the showstopper on the new Fleetwood Mac's 1987-1988 Shake the Cage World Tour.
"I phoned Prince out of the blue, hummed a melody, and he listened," says Nicks of the latter hit's gestation. "I hung up, and he came over within the hour. He listened again, and I said, 'Do you hate it?' He said, 'No,' and walked over to the synthesizers that were set up, was absolutely brilliant for about twenty-five minutes, and then left. He was so uncanny, so wild, he spoiled me for every band I've ever had because nobody can exactly re-create - not even with two piano players - what Prince did all by his little self.
"But these kinds of mystical accidents just happen to me all the time. The first song I gave to Tango was a demo my good song-writer friend Sandy Stewart had played for me called 'Seven Wonders.' I gave the tape to Fleetwood Mac at a Halloween party in L.A., to plant a seed, and when it came time for me to sing it live in the studio, I was somehow inspired to sing very different words that instantly transformed the song for all of us. In 300 subsequent takes, I could never sing those unwritten words of mine again, and the original live version we luckily preserved became the second hit from Tango!"
What all this serendipity means in terms of the next two decades of Fleetwood Mac is anyone's guess. Yet an offbeat solidarity prevails, as evidenced by the festivities in Malibu in April '88 when Mick Fleetwood took longtime companion Sara Recor as his new wife. John McVie served as best man, and the guests included a beaming Lindsey Buckingham.
On the musical front, the next solo expressions of Buckingham's independence from his friends must compete artistically with Fleetwood Mac's own threatening LP of all-new material [Behind the Mask]. Meantime, other Mac expatriates carry on in varying degrees of obscurity. Bob Welch is living a quiet life of film-scoring in Phoenix. Jeremy Spencer was last seen fleeing a Children of God settlement in Sri Lanka after nearly being killed during the nation's political riots; rumor has it he's safe and sound on an atoll in the Indian Ocean. Pity the same cannot be said for Peter Green. After a January 1978 marriage at Mick Fleetwood's home to one Jane Samuel, Green relapsed into mental turmoil and presently sleeps in deserted rail depots of Richmond, North Yorkshire, England. When asked about his attitude toward his guitar, the bloated, disheveled Green says, "I had one a while ago, but it broke." He currently wanders around the English countryside, sporting three-inch fingernails and shouldering the forbidding sobriquet of "the Werewolf."
Certainly the two newest additions of the Fleetwood Mac fold are the most grounded and stable fellows thus far, free of ritual rock vices and exotic angst. Rick Vito's impeccable guitar has been the linchpin of records like Bob Seger's Like a Rock and Jackson Browne's Lawyers in Love. As for the boyish, immaculately groomed Billy Burnette, besides his own solo catalog, he has generated much well-crafted country, rhythm and blues, and rock material for Charlie Rich, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Irma Thomas, and Levon Helm.
Both Vito and Burnette showed grace and polish under pressure throughout the Shake the Cage expedition, and with Greatest Hits in the stores as a commercial buffer, they are eager to put their song-writing stamps on a new Fleetwood Mac studio LP.
"Five years ago, when I met Mick Fleetwood in the audience of a Dick Clark TV special, I wouldn't gave guessed it'd lead to all this," says Burnette. "The funny thing is, there was a band I was forming a few years back called the Cholos that Lindsey was seriously thinking of joining as an outside thing! Now that I've dealt with all these surprises, I want to provide what's expected of me."
"This is an astonishing honor that I'm still just trying to keep pace with," says the bashful Vito. "A month before I was invited to join, I was gigging with my own band, Rick Vito and Blues Moderne, at a funky club in Sherman Oaks. At this point, I suppose I've gotten my high school and college degrees in rock and roll, but Fleetwood Mac represents my Ph.D."
Vito's tone is one of rational self-confidence... until an ominous air of metaphysics creeps in. "As a studio musician, I'm used to learning other people's song catalogs, yet I can't shake the odd feeling I've known all these people before."
Stevie Nicks chuckles when Vito's musings are repeated for her. "What would Fleetwood Mac," she joshes, "without a little psychic phenomena. Some thing should never change, right?" Perhaps. The best question for any crystal-gazer might be: Is the future worth the past?
"Absolutely," she assures, "and each of us has he skills to prove it. I've been writing songs again like mad, and I've got a killer one I put together with Mike Campbell, the guitarist in the Heartbreakers. Like I say, I always write songs about the truth, and this is definitely one of those. Hell, if it can't keep until the next Fleetwood Mac studio album, I might even make it the title of my next record."
What's the name of the song?"
"Oh! I call it 'Whole Lotta Trouble.' I mean, what else?"
Extract from Timothy White's 'Rock Lives', 1990.